With all that is going on in the world today-global warming, destructive hurricanes, terrorism, Donald Trump-is it any surprise that the science fiction genre has been turning more and more dystopian? In the last few years the screens have been awash with stories set against the backdrop of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and rampant disease-Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Interstellar (2014), Snowpiercer (2013), Oblivion (2013), and Elysium (2013)-as well as multi-film franchises about the collapse of society and humanity-the rebooted Planet of the Apes (2011"), The Hunger Games (2012"2015), The Maze Runner (2014"2018), and The Purge (2013"). It all adds up to a kind of return to the Nixonian early '70s when the movies reflected the American sense of loss and despair.
What Happened to Monday (aka, Seven Sisters), which is based on a script that has been kicking around since at least 2010, fits right in line with this dystopian fixation. The near-future story is set during a time in which the human race has so damaged the planet and depleted its resources that people are forced to adhere to a strict policy in which each family can have only one child. If more than one child is born, the sibling is forcibly taken by the government and put into cryogenic freeze until the world can be stabilized again (and who knows when that will be?). The set-up is familiar from countless dystopian sci-fi fables, from Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), based on Brian Aldiss's 1969 short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," in which parents who are not allowed to have children instead adopt lifelike child robots, to Kurt Vonnegut's 1962 short story "2 B R 0 2 B," where the world has set a population limit and therefore each birth must be matched with a death. This set-up continues to speak to us because it preys on our fundamental fear that the mistakes we have made and continue to make will ultimately cost us our freedom somewhere down the road-if we're not even allowed to reproduce, what can we be?
The action unfolds in a purposefully vague, European-seeming country (it was shot entirely in Romania with a good deal of CGI elaboration) that is controlled by Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close), a politician who developed the One Child Policy and its enforcement mechanism, the Child Allocation Bureau. The film's protagonist, however, is not one character, but rather seven identical siblings (all played by Noomi Rapace) who were hidden by their grandfather, Terrence Settman (Willen Dafoe), and trained to pretend to be a single woman named Karen Settman. Because there are seven siblings, each one is named after the day of the week on which she is allowed to go out into the world and play the role of Karen while the other six hide in their large apartment. Even though each sibling is distinctly different in personality (which is conveniently given a visual shorthand in wildly varied haircuts), they must work together to pretend to be this singular entity to the outside world.
Of course, such a ruse can't last forever, and the majority of the story centers on what happens once they are discovered after 30 years of successful hiding. Cayman cannot allow the truth to come out, because if it were discovered that seven siblings had successfully lived under her watch, then she and her One Child Policy would lose credibility. Thus, she employs a group of black-ops assassins to kill each of the Settman siblings and destroy any evidence of their existence. The siblings' singular identity has achieved professional success within a large corporation and is on the verge of a major promotion, which puts them at odds with Jerry (Pl Sverre Hagen), a smarmy corporate climber who wants the promotion, as well, and may know their secret. It is also revealed that one of the sisters has developed a relationship with a guard named Adrian (Marwan Kenzari), who could prove to be either an ally or another adversary.
Director Tommy Wirkola first shot to notoriety with his frigid Nazi-zombie cult favorite Dead Snow (2003), and while his initial foray into Hollywood filmmaking, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), was a bust in the U.S., it did big box office overseas. Here he dials back some of his more over-the-top tendencies, focusing the opening passages on the film's undeniably intriguing set-up before letting the bullets fly and the blood splatter in the second half. He's working with a genuinely twisted premise, in that he has seven protagonists all played by the same actress, many of whom meet a grisly fate. The screenplay by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson provides Wirkola with some juicy set-pieces, including a great sequence inside a bathroom in which one of the Settman siblings must cut off a dead assassin's finger and tape it to her own in order to get his fingerprint-locked weapon to fire (cutting off fingers is actually a recurring motif in the film). He also delivers at least one absolutely gonzo death scene that is so fundamentally unexpected that it verges on the brilliant.
It also helps that he's working with Noomi Rapace, who, since first gaining international prominence playing hacker Lisbeth Salander in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (2005"2007), has appeared in a steady stream of Hollywood films by the likes of Guy Ritchie (2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Brian De Palma (2012's Passion), and Ridley Scott (2013's Prometheus). She's an intense actress with a great deal of range, and she sells the idea of the seven distinct sisters with impressive efficiency (the film's special effects, which allows multiple Roomi's to be on screen at the same time, often interacting directly, are fantastic and seamless). Some of the physical distinctions are a bit too on the nose (such as having the hacker sister wear glasses and having the most sexual sister sport platinum blonde hair), but Rapace works outside those obvious lines, investing each sibling with a unique sensibility that pays off when they are under pressure and on the run. Granted, What Happened to Monday bogs down a bit too much in a predictable rhythm of action sequences, losing some of the unique vibe that enlivened its early passages, including the flashback sequences in which Dafoe's character trains the young siblings (all played by Clara Read). Nevertheless, as a whole the film maintains its intrigue and suspense, saving a few juicy surprises for the final reel and refusing to submit entirely to the expected.
Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Netflix
Overall Rating: (3)
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